Fleeing war and hardship, ‘remarkable’ Margaret Poji has built a safer life for her seven sons in Lismore.
Margaret uses her hand to make the sign of a wave when explaining the ups and downs in her history. “My life,” she says lightly, “has been a little bit difficult.”
In fact, Margaret’s story is one of almost unbelievable resilience. By the time she and her husband arrived in Australia in 2008 with four young sons in tow, she had already experienced more insecurity, hardship and loss than many of us do in a lifetime.
Before coming to the Northern Rivers, Margaret had fled civil war in Southern Sudan and taken flight from violence in a Ugandan refugee camp. She had lived through assault, a serious bus accident requiring hospitalisation, and an attempt to abduct one of her children from another refugee camp in Kenya.After eight years in that camp, she and her family were accepted as humanitarian refugees by Australia. “I really felt free, finally,” Margaret said. However, the transition was difficult. “It was hard. I had no English – I could not even ask for water.”
With her traumatic background, a large and growing family – three more children came along, all boys – the family’s poor English skills and dependence, at first, on government welfare for income, life in Lismore was tough.
From time to time Margaret has needed a helping hand to support her in finding suitable and stable housing. This led to her connection with Social Futures in 2016. “Securing a house wasn’t easy,” explains Fiona Halligan, who now heads up the Family Connect and Support service for Social Futures.
“Even back then, there were not enough houses on the market, especially ones big enough for Margaret’s family. We had to do a lot of advocating and collaboration with other services to make it happen.” Ultimately, they found the family a large house in the private rental market.
Shortly after the family moved in, more misfortune struck. One member of the family suffered an acquired brain injury and one of her sons became seriously ill. As she was caring full time and unable to work, money was short and the family was evicted. For Margaret, the stress became almost unmanageable. “I was ready to take up the carpet of the house and spread it out in the park and go and live with my family there,” she said.
Again, Social Futures was able to help advocate for secure housing for the family, this time in social housing. Finding a safe place to call home is crucial, but it’s just the start in many ways. Other, ‘wrap around’ services are needed.
Through Social Futures, Margaret and her boys have been assisted by multiple services including legal advice, Centrelink social workers, trauma counselling, and other mental health supports.
Her family has also been connected to the Family Support network, health services, YWCA, vacation care, education providers and the Opportunity Pathways Program. It was through Opportunity Pathways that Margaret was able to secure regular employment as an Early Childhood Educator. She now works three days a week at a local centre.
Margaret is enjoying her new employment which she describes as life-changing. “My heart is full. I can now take my kids camping which they have been wanting to do.” As far as Ms Halligan is concerned Margaret is ‘remarkable’. Social Futures’ details: socialfutures.org.au